Political Support to ArgentinaMarc Grossman, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Interview with Journalists Marcelo Bonelli and Gustavo Sylvestre
The American Embassy, Buenos Aires, Argentina
March 6, 2002
Marcelo Bonelli: Mr. Grossman, you are heading an inter-agency mission of the U.S. What is your assessment of Argentina's political and economic situation?
U/S Grossman: Well, first of all, let me thank you very much for the opportunity to appear on your show. This is my first visit to Argentina, and I came at Secretary Powell's request to deliver a message of political support to Argentina. And, although the economic issues capture the headlines and I'm sure that you report on them all the time, we sometimes forget that there's a huge bilateral agenda, multilateral agenda, regional agenda between the U.S. and Argentina, and I wanted to highlight that.
Gustavo Sylvestre Mr. Grossman, what is the U.S. view, now that you are here in Argentina and have had the opportunity to be make contact with President Duhalde and his ministers, what is your perception of the acute crisis Argentina is undergoing?
U/S G: I did have the opportunity yesterday to visit with President Duhalde, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Defense. I found all of them, first of all, very happy that I have come to Argentina to express this political support. As President Duhalde said, sometimes people in Argentina feel a little bit alone and I wanted to make sure that, from America's point of view, Argentina is seen as a friend and ally and a partner, and Argentina is not alone. President Duhalde also took the opportunity to inform me yesterday of the efforts that he is making in the political area, in the economic area, to change Argentina. And I think all of those are informations that he will, of course, be giving to the IMF team that's here as well. But what I have to say is that we believe that Argentina can succeed. We believe that Argentinians are hard-working people, perseverant people, people who believe in democracy. And, as President Bush said on the 16th of January at the OAS: 'We want to be there for Argentina. We want to support Argentina. We want Argentina to succeed.'
MB: A follow-up question on that. There have been very different voices conveyed from the U.S. towards Argentina. U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has criticized Argentina very strongly, so I would like to know what the official position of the USG is. Is it of support, is it of conditioned support, or is it dependent upon whatever actions Argentina may undertake? What is the vision or view of the USG towards Argentina?
U/S G: Well, I appreciate that question, and my answer is that, on the 16th of January at the OAS, President Bush made our position absolutely clear, which is that we want Argentina to succeed. We have great sympathy for what is happening in Argentina and we hope Argentina can come up with an economic plan. The President says in that statement that when Argentina has a sound and sustainable economic program we will help Argentina in the international financial institutions. And that's the position of the USG, because that's the position of our President.
MB: Is the current economic plan not sufficiently sound? Is it not eligible yet in order to get IMF support?
U/S G: Well, as your viewers know, there's an IMF team here in Buenos Aires this week, and I'm not going to get between the GOA and the IMF team. As I reported to you, President Duhalde yesterday, with great passion, gave me information about where he thinks things stand with Argentina's economic reform, and I'm sure that he will make those same points to the International Monetary Fund.
GS: Mr. Grossman, doesn't the U.S. fear that, as it occurred in the past, Argentine democracy may be endangered by the depth of Argentina's crisis today? In this sense, the Pope has warned that a further step down may lead to anarchy. There are also Latin American and European presidents deeply concerned. Don't you believe that, if support is delayed, it will be too late? Aren't you concerned about that?
U/S G: We really believe that Argentina is a fundamental, functioning democracy. And we really have no anxieties about that. We believe that people here have a commitment to democracy and that no matter what the economic crisis, no matter what is happening perhaps in people's daily lives today, but this commitment to democracy which we share with Argentina is a fundamental value of Argentinians.
GS: In that sense, is the U.S. committed to Argentine democracy?
U/S G: Absolutely.
MB: Do you believe that the Duhalde administration must complete its term or do you believe that he must call for early elections?
U/S G: I think that the answers are related, because we are absolutely committed to Argentina's democracy, and because we believe in Argentina's democracy I can tell you that decisions about who is President of Argentina and when Argentina should have elections are wholly and solely and totally an issue for Argentinians to decide. I would have no view on that whatsoever.
MB: I believe you're now traveling to Brazil, and then you'll be returning to Washington. When you prepare your report on Argentina's situation will you recommend U.S. support in the IMF so that a loan is granted to Argentina?
U/S G: Well, as I say, the IMF team is here this week. I think we have to let them listen to the Government of Argentina and we have to let them do their work. I'm not in a position, I think, to recommend one way or the other. I will go to Brazil this afternoon, and we're doing some political consultations there. I'll then head back to Washington. But I think we really do need to let the conversation go on between the Government of Argentina and the IMF this week.
GS: One last question. Is there any view regarding a first step being made regarding exemptions to Argentine producers, for example lemon producers or honey producers, who now face restrictions regarding their entry into the United States as has been done with customs duties and exemptions. Is that going to happen?
U/S G: Well, I don't know if it's going to happen on those specific items. I mean, obviously, the trade between Argentina and the U.S. is important to us, and we want it to be as free as possible. And I think that, as you've seen yesterday in President Bush's statement on steel, Argentina was exempt from any of the duties and the taxes. So, we try to make these decisions one by one. We try to make them in a way that's good for you and that's good for the U.S. So I apologize; I can't really answer specifically your question. But,we want to make sure that we're focused on the importance of the trade between the two countries.
MB: Now, yes, our last question.
U/S G: It's really the last one.
MB: Does the U.S. want Argentina to support U.S. policy in Colombia? And is this a condition to receive economic aid?
U/SG: In all of the conversations I had yesterday, I felt that there was a complete convergence of view between Argentina and the U.S. on Colombia. Colombia and Colombian democracy are under attack. They're under attack by the FARC, by the ELN, and the AEC. And in every conversation I had yesterday I felt that Argentina and the U.S. saw this exactly the same way. In none of those conversations did I ever say or did an Argentine official ever say that this was, somehow, some condition about going forward, because we see things in Colombia in exactly the same manner.
MB and GS: Thank you very much.
U/S G: Thank you very much. Thanks a lot.